Germany will send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and has authorised partner countries to also send them – despite threats from Russia.
It means other countries – such as Poland, Spain and Norway – which have stocks of the NATO-standard tank can now donate them to Kyiv.
Yesterday, Moscow warned Berlin that sending tanks “does not bode well for future relations” – and told the US that should it authorise such a move it would be a “blatant provocation”.
Kyiv has been pleading for months for Western nations to send tanks to give its forces the firepower and mobility it hopes will break through Russian defensive lines and recapture territory occupied by Russia.
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally.”
Although Ukraine has stocks of Soviet-made tanks, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his forces need more, faster and deadlier weapons – in particular Western tanks – to push the Russians back.
There had been a sense of frustration among some of Germany’s allies about the delay in authorising the Leopards to go to Ukraine.
The German decision comes after the UK announced it would provide 14 Challenger 2 tanks, which was widely seen as an attempt to persuade other allies to send Leopards, of which there are much higher stocks across Europe.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the move “the right decision by NATO Allies and friends”.
“Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower. Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” he said.
Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, who was among those critical of Germany’s reluctance, also welcomed the decision as a “big step towards stopping Russia”.
Earlier this week he had said he was prepared to build a “smaller coalition” of countries that would send their tanks to Ukraine.
Sky News understands that American officials will soon announce their intention to send Abrams tanks to help Kyiv fight off Russia’s invasion.
First introduced in 1979, the Leopard 2 offers good protection against armour-piercing rounds and anti-tank guided weapons.
On Sunday, the speaker of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, State Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, said: “Supplies of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime would lead to a global catastrophe.
“If Washington and NATO supply weapons that would be used for striking peaceful cities and making attempts to seize our territory as they threaten to do, it would trigger a retaliation with more powerful weapons.”